It’s not often that both ends of the climate change policy spectrum - the new technologies we’re moving to and the old technologies where we’re moving away from - come to the fore on the same day, but on 3 November, 2016 that’s what occurred.
As NSW, Australia’s most populous state and largest economy, announced an ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2050 with a $500 million spend on renewable energy, it was finally confirmed that Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley would close in March 2017. Hazelwood is one of the dirtiest coal-burning power stations in the developed world, emitting 1.5 tonnes of CO2 for each megawatt hour of electricity and produces around a quarter of Victoria’s power. On its own, it accounts for a full 3% of Australia’s emissions.
Previously seen as a laggard in terms of renewable energy and climate action the NSW Government’s new climate goals will secure much-needed jobs and investment in a state that currently only sources about 9% of its power from renewable energy, barely half that of Victoria and a quarter of SA, despite having an abundance of renewable resources.
Modelling shows NSW would gain more than 11,000 jobs – more than any other state – if it transitions away from fossil fuel-based energy. Wind energy is set to play a huge role in this clean energy transition by lowering power prices and bolstering struggling regional economies through it’s jobs-rich construction phase.
Meanwhile, Hazelwood’s imminent closure means that Australia’s transition away from coal-burning electricity is gathering pace. This year has already seen the closure of the last coal burning power station in South Australia, and Hazelwood is likely to be just the first of Victoria’s ageing fleet of coal power stations to close. There is now a clear need for governments, both federal and state, to address both ends of the energy policy spectrum - building more new renewables and transitioning away from old coal. An ambitious, well articulated renewables investment policy must be accompanied by clear and consistent market signals for the phase out of fossil fuels.
With NSW playing ‘renewables catch-up’ and Victoria witnessing a ‘carbon wind-down’, the Federal Government has been left isolated with inadequate climate targets and a renewable energy policy that expires in just three years’ time. Energy and Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, has said that the reduction in coal-fired power is “not a bad thing” but Prime Minister Turnbull has recently said coal will be important “for many, many decades to come”. Clearly there is some confusion on where the federal government stands. Australia urgently needs a climate policy from the Turnbull government that is consistent with the Paris 2030 emissions reduction targets it has committed to and one that can be enhanced over time to adjust to tougher international standards. It’s time to get off the carbon fence and get on board with the global clean energy boom!